A prolific, rampaging, fearsome and instantly recognisable footballer who drove his Dutch side to Euro 88 glory, Ruud Gullit inspired a generation of stars who successfully combined technical excellence with power and precision.
It should therefore be little surprise to find those qualities embedded in the 57-year-old’s approach to golf. The only difference now is, having managed the likes of Chelsea, Newcastle United, Feyenoord and LA Galaxy, he can give himself a stiff dressing down when he shanks a shot into the rough!
RSNG So, how big is your love of golf?
RUUD GULLIT ‘Very. I’ve been hooked on golf ever since I first hit a ball, when someone gave me a bag full of clubs and balls in the early 1990s. I began trying to play properly and swinging at the ball. The first time I swung a club at a golf ball and hit it, it felt really good and from there I have played so much.’
RSNG Most people stumble across golf at a certain time in their life. When was it for you?
RG ‘When it really took off for me is when I signed for Chelsea, so that would have been around 1995. Before then there was a good golfing culture in Italy, where I played for Milan and Sampdoria, but joining Chelsea really took that to another level.’
‘Although Chelsea play in the heart of a very wealthy, very built-up area of London, most of your time as a player is spent out in the country around Cobham in the training ground complex.’
‘Out in Surrey is a rich web of golf courses and there were a number of players from the era who would go for a round of golf nearby so, I guess, for me, it was a natural progression.’
RSNG Has the lifestyle of golf meant a big thing to you then?
RG ‘I wouldn’t say it was golf, in isolation, more the culture of wherever I was, and that’s always something I’ve wanted to be a part of. It was a big factor in me moving to Italy from PSV Eindhoven when I was 24 or 25. I always loved the Italian way of doing things.’
‘When the time came to move to Chelsea, it was for very different reasons – obviously I’d already spent a lot of time in London and loved the city, but for the other things that the move brought – like the fact I would be in great areas of England and could take on a very different way of life with new interests.’
‘That was always the big thing for me when I considered football moves – what else would that move bring me in new experiences?’
‘Having good people around you who can talk you through how to swing, good technique, the right club, the right ball’
RSNG Did you find it difficult to pick up the various intricacies of golf?
RG ‘The good thing about the UK, in particular, is you always meet people who have a passion for golf and will talk you through things very gradually. When I first went to London I remember visiting the American Golf Discount Centre which would have been in Finchley Road, near Golders Green.’
‘The brand were a major player back then, like they are now, and the store was huge. That was one of my earliest experiences of being in the UK and getting fitted for clubs ready to play. I would have only just signed for Chelsea at the time.’
‘Having good people around you who can talk you through how to swing, good technique, the right club, the right ball… it’s all advice that you find yourself passing on and becoming more comfortable with, and that’s a nice thing.’
RSNG Was there a big golfing culture at Chelsea during the 1990s then?
RG ‘There were certainly a few players who liked to fill their time with golf – in fact, some looked on it as a professional career after football, such as Julian Dicks, who was at Liverpool in the 1990s and was talked about quite a lot.’
‘If I’m honest, my football was always the major priority in everything I did, but I knew golf would be there as something I could concentrate on a lot more after I had retired and hung up my boots.’
‘Sure enough, when I did retire I needed something to replace what I had lost in my professional career and that feeling of being competitive. I knew that whatever I did had to give me the same or at least a similar satisfaction.’
‘You’re not wanting to run any more after you’ve retired from a pro career which requires you to do exactly that, so I thought that golf would be a welcome addition into my life, and it turns out to have been the right decision.’
‘I’m not someone who has a huge talent in golf, but I do know the feeling when you hit that perfect shot’
RSNG So, the big question… what’s your golf handicap?
RG ‘My handicap is seven, but I don’t think about that at all. What I think about more is the fact that I am enjoying myself, because why would you want to invest so much time into something that you don’t enjoy?’
‘But, it’s also really good to go out and play golf with friends and enjoy it – although it is still very competitive, and that’s one thing that you don’t lose from your professional sports career.’
‘I’m not someone who has a huge talent in golf, but I do know the feeling when you hit that perfect shot, it is a feeling like no other – certainly now I can no longer play football.’
‘However, there’s one thing that you get with the game of golf – you think that you have it and you can be in the groove – as they say – playing good shots, feeling good and full of confidence. Then, you play one shot not so good, then another and you feel like you have lost everything, you feel frustrated and you can’t wait for the round to finish.’
‘Then, you wake up the next morning after sleeping it off and you can’t wait to get out there again and you want to prove yourself, not to everyone – but sometimes, just to yourself.’
‘That’s the crazy feeling with it all and probably one of the main reasons that I got hooked on golf.’
RSNG You get to play in some great Pro-Ams, don’t you?
RG ‘When I play in the Pro-Ams, there are a lot of really nice people who you meet on the course, some people who you haven’t had the chance or opportunity to meet before, so that’s always good. Along with that, there are also some difficult people, but that’s the way that life is, haha!’
‘One of those Pro-Ams that I am lucky to be able to play each and every year, is the Dunhill Cup and I very proud to accept that invitation every time. It genuinely feels to me like it is my favourite time of the year.’
‘Going up to Scotland to play there is an absolutely amazing experience and it feels almost brand new every time I am there. I’ve played in 16 of the events now and the course is so beautiful.’
‘I’ve also been lucky to play at Celtic Manor in Wales and that is another beautiful course, although a very difficult one.’
RSNG What have you learnt about golf over the time that you have been playing the game?
RG ‘Well, one thing is for sure, that you cannot blame any team-mates or opponents in a game like golf. It’s an individual sport when you’re playing your own shot and you can get some very lonely times out there on the golf course.’
‘It’s a very tough game mentally; you need to have the mental and physical capacity to make it work well.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch Ruud Gullit’s ultimate skill-show from his tremendous career.